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Rainwater harvesting in Pakistani district

Aug 28, 2009

An innovative project by a local NGO, in association with WFP and the Sindh government in Pakistan, is helping people cope with the drought related problems in Tharparker district. The rainwater harvesting has been taken in a big way in this district that receives below normal rains.

Mithi: Tharparker district in Sindh Province, southern Pakistan, is among the most arid regions in the country. Limited rainfall, brackish underground water and the private ownership of wells by an elite minority have made access to potable water very difficult for much of the district’s 900,000 mostly rural inhabitants.

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However, an innovative project by local NGO Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) in conjunction with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Government of Sindh is helping alleviate Tharparker’s drought problems.

Following a survey conducted jointly by the UN children’s agency (UNICEF) and TRDP in 1998, which identified the potable water issues faced in Tharparker, the concept for the Rain Water Harvest Project (RWHP) was born.

The idea was to enable villagers to collect rainfall, which is generally limited to a short annual monsoon season, store it and use it throughout the year.

“Given decreasing levels of rainfall as well as depleting water tables, it is important that we focus on conservation. RWHP allows us to store drinking water as well as replenish the water table,” said Jhuman Lalchandani, a senior manager at TRDP’s Community Physical Infrastructure Unit.

With less rain falling in Tharparker in recent years, ground water levels have been steadily depleting.

Annual rainfall in Pakistan ranges between 760mm and 1,270mm. In Sindh, the driest of the four provinces of Pakistan, annual rainfall is only 150mm to 500mm.

In Tharparker, however, annual rainfall is between 100mm on the western side to 300mm in the east. Spread over nearly 20,000 square km, about the same size as New Jersey in the US, Tharparker experiences most of its rain between July and September, and usually in intermittent downpours of three to four days at a time.

There are also no rivers in the district.

In addition, the high costs of digging and maintaining wells has prevented most of the local population from having access to deep aquifers.

Three types of project

Keeping low cost intervention in mind, RWHP has provided some 1,350 villages and settlements out of 2,100 with underground water storage tanks since 2000.

“At the moment, we have three types of RWH projects, which include rain water harvesting at household levels, also known as cisterns or tankas; at hamlet level ponds are used for saving water for the community; and at the village level we have delay action dams. Also, in low-lying areas, flood protection walls not only save houses from getting flooded but also allow for water to pool up and be used for other purposes,” said Lalchandani.

He said the average family of six to seven people in Tharparker needed around 10-12 litres of drinking water a day just for drinking and cooking. The cost of cement and materials to make a cistern with a capacity of about 2,000 litres is less than PKR 1,000 (US$12). Twenty percent of that cost is paid by the household receiving the cistern in the form of in-kind labour over the three to four days in takes to dig and construct a cistern.

“Each house is given a catchment area and from there the rain water is channeled to cisterns. As of June 2009, at the household level RWHP covers 92,415 homes with the number of beneficiaries being 406,833, with 219,896 of them being women,” Lalchandani said.

One of the most profound impacts of the RWHP in the majority Hindu district is that low-caste marginalized Hindus are not dependent for water any more on the village elite or high-caste neighbours.

“It’s not just the issue of quenching your thirst, it’s also about social empowerment,” Dr Khataumal, TRDP’s Programme Officer for Health & Education, said.

Benefitting women

In Malanhore Veena, a village with a population of 2,500 some 6km from Tharparkar’s central town of Mithi, school teacher Soomar Motomal recalls the hardships faced during the 2000-2001 drought.

“There was no rainfall and most of the villagers were without water. The womenfolk had to walk for long distances and usually came back with empty mataka [earthenware water pots] or water that could not be consumed. But things are different now as the tanka [cisterns] have made life simple for us,” Soomar said.

In 2008, WFP and TRDP launched ‘Creating Assets for Rural Women’, a project that allowed women to own and take charge of water tanks in their homes. This effort seems to have paid off and eased the lives of women who chose to participate.

“There were days, even during our pregnancies, when we would go to a well in the morning and return in the evening because there would be a long line of women to get water,” said Nirmala, a resident of Bhakuo, a village 30km south of Mithi.

Her sister-in-law Maluka added that they used to walk 3-5km a day to get to a well with drinking water, as most of the wells in their vicinity were brackish.

“With rainfall this year, we have been able to fill our tanka and this water can easily last for four to five months. Not only that, but it allows us to save up to PKR 1,500 [$18] per month that we would otherwise spend on purchasing drinking water.”

Both women paid 20% of the total cost of having a cistern installed and now have five cisterns that are full to capacity and are enough to see them through until next year’s rains.

Source : IRIN
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